Environment and conflict in Sudan

I’ve moved to the Sudan… and I’m sitting under a fan in Khartoum writing this… I’ve now been here a couple of weeks and am no longer totally lost. I’ve a new job as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Representative for Sudan. We hail from UNEP’s Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch, which addresses the links between environment (or more specifically, ‘natural resources’) and conflict.

The Sudan programme has had a fantastic start through a two-year project to create a Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment for Sudan, which was published this year and is one of the best surveys of the challenges of a developing country environment you will find anywhere – a tribute to the energy and drive of Andrew Morton, who led the effort. The assessment develops some 85 recommendations, and our job here is to make as much of that happen as we can. Continue reading “Environment and conflict in Sudan”

Land use and food security

One of the big questions for me is whether we devote too much land to farming and not enough to land use for wildlife, wilderness, woodland, places to walk and places to live etc. that is land for its ‘amenity’ value or for development. About 70% of England is given over to farming and only about 10% to development (see my earlier posting), yet surveys show most people think that much more land (>50%) is developed than really is (see Q1 in this survey for the Barker Review). The survey also shows that people have strong preferences for land for its wildlife and landscape value (Q3).

So, why don’t we have more national parks, reforest large areas of rural England, get most of the sheep off the uplands, switch to extensive low impact agriculture producing high-quality and high-value foods, open up access to land, fill the countryside with helpful signposts and paths and let people enjoy living in England? I was out walking in the Thames Valley this weekend – very nice, but I did wonder why there was so much sheep farming going on what must be some of the most highly prized real estate in the land. An occasional sortie out of the city reveals just how much space there is given over to low value agriculture, even in crowded South East England. Continue reading “Land use and food security”

Atrocity exhibition

There is something stunning in the brilliance of Google Earth [download] – a streaming map of the world in the form of satellite photography with the mean to zoom from planet to street level in scale. ‘Layers’ are overlaid on the map images showing an ever expanding range of surface features: national boundaries, roads, video stores, government offices, monuments – with 3D buildings, flights through the Grand Canyon etc. Each year the images increase in resolution and the coverage of higher resolution photography increases.

But potentially interesting political uses are also emerging: take the pictured map of conflict in Darfur… Continue reading “Atrocity exhibition”

Diamonds – curse or charm?

Saw Blood Diamond – an action-movie-with-a-message, though laced with clichés (mercenary with a heart of gold, pouting female journalist as searcher after truth, silly shoot-outs etc). But also brutal depiction of what the very dirty end of the diamond business looks like – militarised slave-labour , child soldiers, violent abuse like amputations and, of course, an illegal trade funding arms and militias fuelling conflict that reaches up to the comfortable cities of London, Antwerp, Jo’burg and New York. The film had a good airing for the excellent Global Witness and Amnesty diamond campaigns, and their joint venture Blood Diamond Action.

Despite the horrors of the film, conflict diamonds are one aspect of Africa’s habitual miseries where things are getting better and there may even be cause for optimism… Continue reading “Diamonds – curse or charm?”

The Eurovision vision contest

Terrific pamphlet by Tom Burke and Nick Mabey of E3G. Their Europe in the World publication is a vision for Europe painted on the broadest possible canvas – an inspiring call for Europe to cast off its paralysing anxieties and face the globalising world with confidence and purpose. This is about defining a European mission that is outward-looking, and aimed at playing the most fundamental role we expect from any state institution: providing security. But they have a broad definition of security, making the case for Europe as a key actor providing in energy security, climate security, water security and food security. They define success not in raw GDP terms (which remains the obsession of the EU’s Lisbon Agenda and most leaders), but in terms of quality of life, health, security and well-being. For me it opens some interesting questions… Continue reading “The Eurovision vision contest”

Second oldest profession in the world – arms dealing

I fear it was a terrible move to axe the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into the Al Yamamah (“the dove”) arms deal between UK and Saudi Arabia.

All parties have been stressing (implausibly) that the decision was not economic – supposedly 50,000 arms-related jobs at stake. For example, see SFO’s terse statement.  It’s obviously a mess and much worse is surely to come: Continue reading “Second oldest profession in the world – arms dealing”

What’s the opposite of "human rights with common sense"

What is the opposite of ‘common sense’? ‘Stupid’ could be right. Or ‘arbitrary’. But one opposite might also be ‘principled’… meaning that you stick to deeply-held principles, even if they give you discomfort in specific cases. Conservative leader David Cameron called for “human rights with common sense” as he promised to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a Bill of Rights (BBC or original speech). He can probably have a Bill of Rights (which the Human Rights Act already is) or the appearance of common sense – but not both.

The whole problem with common sense is that it implies a very elastic view of what is right… Continue reading “What’s the opposite of "human rights with common sense"”

"Brown stays nuclear" is not a story

The government was always going to renew its nuclear weapons capability and despite the minor furore, the Chancellor was stating the obvious in his Mansion House speech (BBC story). Despite the obvious lack of an enemy, the obvious threats for which nuclear weapons are useless, and the obvious opportunity cost of not using the money for peace-making and peace-keeping, there is just a world-leader phallic thing about these weapons and it would have been startling if he had announced a national nuclear emasculation. What is now more important is exactly what this capability would be. There are many possible options (and costs) for the platform (air launched, submarine), missile system and warheads. The degree of firepower, independence from the US, and readiness (minutes, days or months?) are also variables. So what is a minimum deterrent? Virtually nothing was said on this. Continue reading “"Brown stays nuclear" is not a story”

Suicide as ‘act of war’? Guantanamo reveals madness of US military

Just when you thought the US military couldn’t become more detached, it describes the suicide of three inmates at Guantanamo Bay as an “act of asymmetric warfare waged against us” (BBC report). Guantanamo reminds me of The Trial by Franz Kafka – a surreal, bullying and unflinching judicial apparatus that denies humanity and justice. But what do those revealing words tells us?

Continue reading “Suicide as ‘act of war’? Guantanamo reveals madness of US military”